A True Toolwatch
I once came across a website that listed all the currently existing microbrands in the world. There were hundreds of names, and it seemed then that there was a new brand coming into existence every day. It actually still feels like this as I see a new brand appear on YouTube or Instagram daily. Seeing this influx of new brands popping up everywhere always raises a couple of questions in my mind: What does a new brand hope to bring to the watch market that hasn’t been done before, and how many brands will survive past the end of their first Kickstarter campaign?
Once in a while, we find a needle that stands out in this haystack of new brands. The reasons such brands stick out and survive their first Kickstarter campaign are clear: they bring something new, they know what they want, and they stick to it RZE is one of these brands. They wanted to make reinforced, full-titanium watches with unique case shapes at reasonable prices. RZE succeeded, and with its first fully-funded Kickstarter campaign in the rearview mirror, the company has now released two new models.
RZE (previously Reise) was created by Travis Tan in 2020 and is based in Singapore. Tan was no stranger to watchmaking before he launched RZE: he worked as a product designer for the BOLDR Supply Company, a fact clearly visible in the commonly shared design DNA of both RZE and BOLDR watches. The latter was clearly the brainchild of the former company’s owner, but this doesn’t make RZE any less special or less relevant within the watchmaking milieu.
RZE’s first Kickstarter campaign for the Resolute field watch (reviewed here) was an immense success. The startup’s initial fundraising target of $30,000 was not only reached in six minutes, it was exceeded sixfold (by the end, the campaign had brought in a total of $179,381). These outstanding results were an early sign that the brand was doing something right and was here to stay. Following their first successful campaign and the selling-out of the Resolute model, RZE had arrived at a position where they now had the resources to produce a second model, the Endeavour, without relying on a second Kickstarter campaign.
The Endeavour is the brand’s dive watch, and it has the exact same case design as the Resolute. This model is unique in its own right for being one of the few dive watches equipped with a titanium bezel. Not too long after releasing the Endeavour, RZE released the Valour, another full-titanium chronograph equipped with a Japanese quartz movement. (Both the Resolute and Endeavour, by the way, are equipped with automatic Seiko movements.)
Since its launch in 2020, therefore, RZE has been climbing the path of success, and there are many good reasons why. Let’s dive in and find out what those are.
The Resolute comes in a bead-blasted titanium case that measures 40.5mm in diameter, 46mm lug to lug, and 11.5mm thick. It also has a lug width of 20mm with drilled-lug holes. The short lug-to-lug distance compensates for the 40.5mm diameter case, which is not big by any measure, but somewhat substantial for small-wristed people like me.
The Resolute has two types of lume on the dial. There is SuperLuminova C3 on the baton-shaped hour markers, hands, and lollipop seconds hand. The smaller portion of the 6, 9, and 12 o’clock markers, as well as the five-minute markers on the minute track are filled with SuperLuminova BGW9, an interesting combination of lume that adds dynamism to the otherwise sterile dial. The latter feature displays a subtle sandy texture that absorbs light like a black hole, a good thing for a tool watch, as it increases readability by creating a stark contrast between the hands and dial.
The watch boasts 100 meters of water resistance due to the screw-down crown and screw-down caseback, a reasonable depth rating for both a field watch and everyday watch. The crown action is satisfying, and the threading feels just right. (I never had to back-thread the crown to make sure it’s securely tightened.) Inside this water-resistant titanium case beats the SII NH35A movement, a staple of reliability in the microbrand world. This movement has 41 hours of power reserve, 24 jewels, and beats at 3Hz (21,600 beats per hour).
Last but not least, the Resolute is topped with a thick piece of sapphire crystal and something called super anti-reflective coating, a reference to the 10 to 12 coats of the substance on the underside of the crystal.
As soon as the first photos of the Resolute were published on the Kickstarter campaign website, my eyes were drawn not to the dial or the hands or the strap but to the case. I immediately fell in love with its angular case shape, which reminded me of the contours of a high-tech sports car, giving it a modern and bold look. Looking at BOLDR’s catalogue, we can see that these case shapes were the product of Tan’s creative mind, and they immediately became RZE’s signature design style.
The dial has a fine grainy texture that absorbs light and makes the brushed markers, hands, and framed date window stand out, creating a perfect contrast. The combination of this dial texture with everything brushed gives the Resolute a distinctive, toolish aspect. Add to this the sandblasted titanium case, bracelet, and hands, and you find yourself with a watch that oozes adventure and begs to be taken out into the wild.
As we mentioned before, RZE mixed two types of lume on the dial, C3 Superluminova on the hands and hour markers and BGW9 on the five-minute markers along the minute track. While there doesn’t seem to be a practical reason to have two types of lume, the contrasting lume colors are certainly pleasing to look at, something rarely done by microbrands. The lume is bright and generously applied all around.
My favorite part of the Resolute is the design of the hour markers and hands. The markers are long and thin, while the batons have brushed surrounds and are filled with thick layers of lume. The hands are also long and thin, and their width is equal to that of the hour markers, which creates great balance at all times. The batons at 6, 9, and 12 have a little break allowing the use of the two types of lume, and there are double batons at the 12 o’clock.
The Heart of the Matter
Let’s get to the heart of the matter here, which revolves around four main points.
The first is that RZE truly offers something that is different from what other microbrands offer. Many microbrands reuse classical design elements of popular steel sports watches that they wrap inside a stainless steel case with polished and brushed surfaces. RZE came out with something rare, the use of a material not often used by such microbrands. The Resolute has a full titanium case and bracelet (with the exception of the stainless steel clasp). It feels good to see something different at the $500 price point. We watch collectors have longed to see something extraordinary, something new that can relieve the microbrand fatigue of the past few years.
The same phenomenon has occurred in all things people create: movies, music, fashion, gastronomy, and so on. We have been reusing the same formulas for the past 100 years. Take music, for example. Most of the popular music of the past 60 years is rooted in jazz and has gotten reformulated and repackaged because it’s something that works. It’s the same with watches. There are many microbrands out there that release a new stainless steel sports watch with a 38/42mm case diameter, 100 to 200 meters of water resistance, and a cheap and reliable Seiko movement. Many dive watches commonly display round or rectangular hour markers and broad arrow or Mercedes hour hands, while field watches have full Arabic numerals dials and syringe-style hands.
In the midst of all of this, RZE released a full titanium watch with baton markers that you normally find on dressier pieces, a proprietary coating called Ultrahex that even luxury brands don’t bother producing, and you get all this for $500. As many people before me have pointed out, the thing that makes microbrands so unique is the fact that they can afford to and have to innovate in order to stand out. There are already too many brands that disappear after a first model because they didn’t offer something new and exciting, not to mention too many failed Kickstarter campaigns to encourage the release of an off-the-shelf design with above-average specifications.
Seeing an option like RZE, then, is refreshing.
The second point is that with the Resolute, you get great value for the $500 you pay for it: a reinforced titanium case and bracelet, sapphire crystal with thick layers of antireflective coating, two types of lume (both of which are generously applied), a reliable, easy-to-service Japanese movement, and most importantly, an original design. The case and the use of baton markers and stick hands are original design features normally used on dressier watches than this, which goes above and beyond what is required. This is certainly a good justification for paying $500 for this watch. We should pause for a moment and consider how much time Travis has invested in designing the Resolute and subsequent models. Creating something new takes time and demands taking a risk RZE could have avoided by going with proven designs that work.
The third reason to like the Resolute involves the case design and the way in which the brand created continuity in their lineup. As we will see in future reviews of the Endeavour and Valour models, all three models share the same case shape. Given the fact that each RZE model becomes a bit more complex than the previous one—the Endeavour has increased water resistance and added a titanium bezel that the Resolute doesn’t have, and the Valour has a chronograph movement that the Endeavour doesn’t have—one would expect the price of each model to go up. That’s not the case here because RZE has repurposed the Resolute case design for its new models. Truly, RZE has found a winning formula here, and I have the feeling that their next model will confirm this judgment.
The fourth and last point is the attention to detail that went into designing and manufacturing the Resolute. It may sound odd, but one of my favorite features of the watch is the thickly framed date window. Most brands, even luxury ones, do not necessarily frame their date windows. It may be for aesthetic reasons, which I respect, but in my book, putting a frame around a date window illustrates the fact that Travis did not cut any corners here. Look also at the textured dial. It has a fine, sandy texture that looks as good as popular tool watches such as those in the Hamilton Khaki Field collection. Take a look at the generous amounts of lume on the hands and markers as well. Microbrands generally choose the right type of lume but do not apply enough of it.
It’s interesting to see that paying more for a watch doesn’t guarantee that you will have better lume on it. With a few exceptions like Seiko’s Lumabrite and Rolex’s Chromalight, higher-priced watches are rarely endowed with good lume, which can be disappointing. The fact that the Resolute has such good lume further illustrates the extremely good value on offer here. The choice of the movement is also key. The Seiko NH35 may not be an elaboré-grade movement, but it works, it’s reliable, and it’s easy to service. Again, Travis was deliberate in choosing this movement because at the end of the day, a tool watch is supposed to be resistant to shocks, water, and inclement weather, regardless of whether or not you actually use it for something other than desk-diving.
When you spend $500 for a watch, you don't want to spend $500 to service it. Adding Ultrahex coating on the case and bracelet, then, makes sense. Using sapphire for the crystal makes sense. Using an easy-to-service movement mechanism makes sense. Using a textured dial to contrast with the hands and markers makes sense. At the heart of the matter, then, is the fact that Travis has designed and built a tough watch at a good price using an innovative design and reliable construction.
One thing that RZE does very well is creating consistency in their designs. This means that if you like their first model, you will like the second and third and fourth ones. This might not be the norm, but I do like to support a brand as it expands by releasing new models regularly. Once we get hooked on a brand, we want to support it for as long as it exists.
Furthermore, RZE does not deal with limited editions and limited-quantity models, which is such a big relief. Many brands want to create buzz and make the experience of owning their watches something unique, so they limit the number of watches they produce, either releasing small batches in long intervals or just one batch and nothing after that. This creates frustration for watch collectors because it is difficult to acquire their models and makes prices on the secondhand market skyrocket.
Just like Seaholm, Baltic, Lorier, and Serica, RZE puts together solid lineups that are here to stay. They want as many people to have the pleasure of owning their watches as soon as possible, so they keep cranking them out. I personally like this approach more than that of many other brands that produce limited quantities of watches.
The bottom line is this: with an RZE watch, you just can’t go wrong.